It’s lotto season in New York and everyone’s looking to win big. All week long, people have hit corner bodegas in hopes of scoring that winning ticket — but I’m feeling more lowkey. I’m at Washer drummer Kieran McShane’s Brooklyn apartment, hanging with a cat named Dogmeat and watching “Adventure Time,” when Mike Quigley enters with a case of beer and his very own (and perhaps lucky) lotto ticket.
Quigley plays guitar and bass and sings in Washer, a punk duo whose brilliant debut, Here Comes Washer, is out today (Jan. 22) on Exploding In Sound Records. We crack open the beer and discuss what we’d each do with the winning money.
“I’d pay off my student loans,” Quigley says without hesitation. McShane thinks for a moment before declaring, “I’d buy some arable land.” We order takeout before digging into the new record, and also talk tour — soon, they’ll hit the road with friends and fellow punks Big Ups — but on the whole, the band don’t have many “good” tour stories in their arsenal. The best they can muster is a tale of getting drunk and playing with some dogs at an artist loft in Philadelphia, but as Quigley admits, “There’s not really a story there. It was mostly just a nice time.”
Not that tour isn’t awesome — it’s just not what most people think. “You don’t really have time to get fucked up and be irresponsible,” McShane says. “You have to be places on time. You can’t spend too much money. Then at the end of the day, you’re like, ‘Shit, I actually have to play now, too.’”
A week later, I hope I’m not spoiling much by revealing that, unfortunately, Quigley didn’t hit the jackpot. Still, there’s the matter at hand — Here Comes Washer — and the revelation that Washer couldn’t possibly have created a more winning debut; one that expertly analyzes fear, anxiety, being in love and being alone, offering its listener something relatable to "latch" onto (like the uneasy protagonists of the driving "Pet Rock Vs. Healing Crystal"). There’s the physicality of literally feeling alive (“I spit, I suck, I shake, and all my bones they break,” Quigley confesses on “Human”) and also the uncertainty of living, in a broader sense (“fear of the outside” on epic album opener “Eyelids”). There’s also the pressure of being a good person, of doing the right thing, and of working hard, even if you’re young, and still unsure of what you're actually working towards.
Here Comes Washer is the human experience for a new generation; introspective and incredibly smart, a little confused, but never amiss.
Of course, in our talk, we didn’t just watch cartoons and daydream about imaginary riches — we touched upon all these topics, in a thorough discussion that helped define (and redefine) some of the things we’re all just trying to figure out.
MTV News: I recently saw a publication refer to Washer as "slack punk." What do you think of the “slacker” label in general -- would you say it applies to your sound?
Mike Quigley: I think that term stems from the inflection of the vocalist. When that description gets used, it’s when the vocalist talks, or sing-talks kind of monotone... although I have some real melodies, and the record has a lot of screaming. But slack-punk is kind of the [Stephen] Malkmus thing. Sounding kind of bored.
It’s kind of lazy on behalf of music writers.
Kieran McShane: We both have full time jobs.
MQ: Not only that, but we’ve also put out multiple releases in two years [of existence], we play shows a lot... but I think it’s really easy to just tag a genre to a band and then talk about the same things that everyone likes about that genre. It sucks because it’s not always true.
If you just listened to it and talked about the lyrics or the actual sound…
It’s like, “Oh, this band wants to stick it to The Man.” Exactly, everyone wants to stick it to The Man! Nobody wants to be The Man!
KM: I think The Man rules.
MTV News: Most "slacker" bands write extremely apathetic lyrics, but yours are pretty much the exact opposite. You seem to care a lot.
MQ: Yeah, I’d say the record’s pretty urgent.
It's mostly about me trying to figure out how to be good. I think I’m very self-critical, and it comes across in the songs. Lyrically, it’s a lot of me trying to figure things out.
MTV News: You're often worried, and there's a lot of looking inward. [Album opener] "Eyelids" contains a lot of Catholic imagery -- "collections," "daylight," and you sing, "lead us not into annihilation, but deliver us from rubble..."
MQ: That's a quote from a Don DeLillo book, Americana. It's about an insane radio DJ who has a show at 3 AM for crazy people, and he has these chapter-long rants... in one of the rants he’s discussing nuclear war, and he starts reciting "Our Father," but reworked with those words instead of the real words. I stole that because the song is about being scared of the world outside.
MTV News: What are you afraid of?
MQ: It’s mostly about my relationship, and how that’s a little world that’s existed for a long time for me, and so I’ve built up a general fear about the outside world that isn’t what’s already understood between myself and my partner. When you have this one stable thing in your life, you’re always going to be scared of not having that around.
A lot of the record is about that: me and my relationship, and its relation to other things.
KM: And me.
MQ: And Kieran.
MTV News: You and Kieran have also known each other a really long time.
MQ: We first met as little kids in Boy Scouts, but Kieran went to a different high school.
KM: We had mutual friends, and I would see him around sometimes even though we went to different schools.
MQ: I was in bands with some kids who had been middle school friends of Kieran’s. Then we both happened to go to NYU. And then the last two years of college we lived together.
KM: When we lived together, Quigley had another project called Clownface. That band kind of just petered out.
MTV News: Would you say you're best friends?
MQ: Kieran’s probably my best friend.
KM: Quigley’s one of my best friends.
MQ: I have very few close relationships outside the person I’ve dated for ten years.
KM: And me.
MQ: And Kieran.
KM: That’s why he gets mad whenever I say that I’m quitting the band.
MQ: I live in perpetual fear of Kieran quitting the band. I was so unfulfilled in the music aspect of my life before this band.
MTV News: When did you first start writing music?
MQ: High school. I did a weird arrangement of a Pinback song on saxophone. The first song I ever wrote for myself… I forgot what it was called, but I put it on Myspace.
I started Clownface in high school. My other band in high school was called Whales Incognito. We were the sickest band ever.
MTV News: How would you say your songwriting has evolved as you’ve gotten older?
MQ: The songs on the record have more substance. That’s on purpose. I’ve tried to put a little more effort into lyrics. I never just start with words — I always write riffs, or maybe a phrase from a book or whatever, but the song always gets done first, and then I kind of pull up scraps to make the lyrics. I’m trying to do that with a little more thought.
MTV News: In "Safe Place," you make a pretty political statement: "You can express yourself without being violent/You can be a better person by not keeping silent." Is this something you're purposefully trying to address through your music?
MQ: I would like to think that, but I think ultimately I’m not that altruistic. I’m not making the world a better place by making my record. Most of the record for me is just getting some sh-t off my chest. It’s selfish in that way.
I’m not like, doing specific things to move my community forward. Some bands do that and it’s sick as hell. I’m just not that kind of person, at least not right now. Lots of bands are overtly political right now and are doing such a good job of addressing issues like social injustice. It’s awesome and pretty empowering for a lot of people.
I just don’t have that much to complain about. If things were different, maybe I would.
MTV News: The lyrics and title reminded me of the concept of the DIY "safe space." How do you feel about that idea?
MQ: I’m the most privileged dude in the world -- I’m a straight white male. A lot of people don’t have the same luxuries as I do. I can be myself anywhere, because the world was built for people like me. That’s not necessarily the case for a lot of other people, and so that’s necessary so that other people are welcome, and to remind people like myself that they’re welcome, too.
KM: A lot of times those rules and guidelines are meant for people who aren’t me, so my opinion shouldn’t matter.
It’s like, don’t be an ass—- at a show and hit somebody, but also don’t hit anybody anywhere, ever.
MTV News: For our generation, being punk isn't being violent and self-destructive. It's being responsible and smart, and caring about the world.
MQ: What it means to be punk has definitely changed over time, but what hasn’t changed is the underlying theme that you’re just doing you. You can be you and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
And I think with our generation, it is less of like, “get f--king drunk all the time," and, "Anarchy!” and hating the government… people still like the idealism of punk, but are a little more practical now.
We’re practical and we’re also a little disaffected. Nothing’s really changed in a long time. It's like, “Okay, I can’t change this or that, but at least I can be a good person. And that’s all I can control.” That’s kind of a punk thing.
MTV News: Being a good person is important to punk, because by not being a good person, you're not advancing the cause.
MQ: The things that matter are not the specifics of what the mentality is applied to. Like, “Reagan sucks." Yeah, we know Reagan sucks. That’s not what matters. What matters is that you’re empowering yourself and your peers to make the changes that you want to make, so that you’re living the life you want to live.
MTV News: Would you say you have a positive outlook on the world -- even if it's scary?
MQ: In my regular life, I try to be practical and more or less positive about things. Maybe because music is a break from that, I write about the things I try to think about less. It’s a way to let the steam out.
The world is terrifying. Everything feels really charged. I don’t think humans are the worst... [turns to Kieran] what do you think?
KM: About what?
MQ: Your outlook on the world.
KM: There’s a lot of bad stuff and not much I can do about it.
MQ: That part’s a bummer. But you can always do something like go to a soup kitchen! Or give someone your jacket! You could do that.
KM: It’s just nice that once a week at practice, I get to hit things really hard.
Stream Here Comes Washer in its entirety here.